Marriage is a private affair

Marriage is a Private Affair-Four Levels   

1024px-Chinua_Achebe_-_Buffalo_25Sep2008_crop      Author: Chinua Achebe

Literal Comprehension:

This suggestive story “Marriage is a Private Affair” is written by famous Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. In this story, he has described about one marriage relation show marriage as a private affair. The subject matter of this story is love and marriage between Nnaemeka and Nene where Nnaemeka is from Ibo tribe and Nene is from other tribe. He did engagement and started to live with at Lagos city. When they were engaged Nene was asking to send the message about their engagement to his father Okeke but Nnaemeka did not do that because he was familiar with his father’s nature and his culture. According to his culture, the son of Ibo tribe has to marry the girl of their own tribe arranged by father. If the arrangement is done by the father it will be acceptable from all the members of that community. If the arrangement is done by sons themselves with the girl of different tribe, it would make father very angry and creates the tension in family. So, he planned to tell his father when he went home on leave. But he did not tell to Nene that his father had already chosen a girl Ugoye of his own tribe.
Nnaemeka went home on leave and told his father that he could not marry Ugoye because he was engaged to marry with Nene who is a good Christian and teacher in Lagos City whom he loves. After hearing this Okeke became very angry because according him and his rituals Christian woman should not speak/teach. Then Okeke asked her name and when he knew that she was the girl of other tribe but not of Ibo tribe, he became silent which silent was more dangerous than his angry speech. Okeke tried to persuade his son Nnaemeka not to marry with Nene. But when Okeke was sure that his son would not obey him, he did not speak with his son after ordering to go away from home and gave up as a last. When Nnaemeka went to Lagos, the neighbors came to Okeke to give sympathy about his son’s behavior. Different old people and gentlemen encouraged Okeke to go against his behavior and suggested to check his son with witch doctor by saying his mind is not right. But Okeke denied that idea.
After six months Nnaemeka showed his father’s letter to Nene. Nnaemeka had sent their weeding picture to his father. His father had returned to them by damaging the picture of Nene. Nene sobbed when she found her picture damaged. He consoled her by saying that his father is a good natured man and that one day all would be right. Nene and Nnaemeka were living happier and more comfortable life in Lagos. Everybody except Nnaemeka’s father Okeke in Ibo tribe knew about that because Okeke never liked to talk about his son and never let other to talk about his son. With a great effort, he was able to forget his son because almost 8 years went by not having any contact between Okeke and his son Nnaemeka. Nene had given birth to two sons within that time. Nene wrote a serious letter to Okeke telling that his two grandsons were enthusiastic / inspiring to see their grandfather. She had requested him in letter to allow them to see him and also told that she would not come to village where Nnaemeka would come with grandsons. When Okeke read the letter of Nene, the idea of grandson melted him and he soon realized his mistake not giving invite to his son and daughter-in law for eight years in to their home. He regretted for his behavior. The sky was clouded and started to rain. He could not sleep that night. He saw vision that two grandsons were waiting outside in the rain asking to come in. tears came in his eyes. Mentally Okeke wanted to invite Nene’s family. So he had vague fear that he might die before giving them their proper right.


This story “Marriage is a Private Affair” might be trying to tell us that married life becomes happier and joyful if it is done privately and in accordance with personal choice. Along with it, the writer wants to say that if the society is superstitious and narrow minded, it brings us tension and problems. It is not necessary to get married within own culture like Ibo in this story to live happy married life. As Okeke did not accept his son’s private marriage with Nene, he got 8 years tension, misunderstanding, conflicts and sadness which are the result of narrow mindedness and superstitious belief/traditional belief. Here the writer wants to suggest that we should be careful, qualified and independent then personal choice of marriage can be the best example of marriage to live happily.

Critical Thinking:

Thought the writer’s focus is to show private affair of marriage as the best example of marriage to live with joy and happiness, he has not described anything about the arrange marriage which has its own value too. So, some of the points which are described in this story makes me disagree. 
Here the private marriage life of Nene and Nnaemeka is shown as one of the happier and joyful life. Why did Nene write letter to Okeke, father-in-Law, saying that their two sons want to meet him? Can’t we say that they were not happy? Can a private marriage always create happiness? Presently, we can see that private affair of marriage is bringing lots of problem in the world rather than arranged marriage. More events of divorce are occurring in private marriage cases. In such condition, how can we regard private marriage as the best example? When Okeke could not convince his son Nnaemeka not to marry with Nene, he completely rejected his son. How can a father reject a son due to his misunderstanding of marriage?


After reading this story, I came to know that superstitious and back-warded societies are not only in Nepal, these people are everywhere else. This story made me to remember the incident when I wanted to have inter-cast marriage with my present wife. She belongs to Newar family and me from Brahman family. We were in private affair at that time but our both family came to know our relation. As they were superstitious, both families denied our relation saying that we have different culture but we didn’t give up and decided that convincing both family, we would get marry and enjoy the happy life. Finally, we both became independent and decided to get marry which was also accepted by both families. Now, everybody is happy seeing us that we are enjoying our private marriage life.

1.Who in this story sees marriage as a private affair? Who does not? Why?

Ans: The short story ‘Marriage is a Private Affair’ by Chinua Achebe is a tale illustrating two stratas of community life. It seems mainly to be delineated in this instance by age, juxtaposing the senior generation with its strict mores and cultural traditions and a younger generation which doesn’t value these ideas, perceiving them to have less value than their ‘elders and betters’ do. Marriage has changed in many societies across the world, and now, in some cultures, people don’t even bother with an expensive ceremony or registering a paper document. They are content, for cultural, economic or social reasons to commit to a ‘partner’ and need no ‘blessing’ (or interference!) from elders, pastors or peers. Perhaps today’s women are more financially independent and that has a bearing – they like to think they can manage relationships for themselves if they have a ‘modern’ helpful and understanding partner. Consequently, these couples believe their marriage or relationship is ‘a private affair.’
In Chinua Achebe’s story the younger generation is illustrated by as Nnaemeka and the elders by Okeke. Traditional cultural views of marriage are shown as being rigidly restrictive and inflexible and are spotlighted against the foil of the much more valuable freedom of the individual. The antidote to all this conflict, hostility and interference is shown to be love, which is more than a match for dictatorial arbitrary social rules and conventions. The ancient theme of parental choice of partner is suggested, and as in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the painful dilemma of the individual’s choice of partner is contrasted. This theme is introduced in the very first lines of dialogue in the short story where the young bridegroom is dubious about the reception his marriage news will get. It is an interesting story because at other times Achebe has stated his respect for the wisdom of older people and highlighted his obvious respect for them ;
‘When old people speak it is not because of the sweetness of words in our mouths; it is because we see something which you do not see.’
One wonders if today’s elders will watch and wait, but still be there with their wise eyes and good advice when the going gets tough for young couples.

2.Examine the role of family and social pressure in “Marriage is a Private Affair” in contrast to the role it plays in a love marriage.

Ans: In a traditional arranged marriage, one sees the role of family pressure and social expectations. When Nnaemeka dreads speaking to his father about his impending marriage to Nene, it is because he knows the plans his father has made and the pressure that accompanies them. This becomes the case as Okeke speaks to his plans as to whom he wants Nnaemeka to marry, the bride he has chosen, and conveying the role that Okeke wants his son to play. This family pressure is seen in Okeke’s response, one that rejects his son’s wishes. The stubbornness and defiance that Okeke shows is reflective of an expectation that he believes his son has abdicated. This anger results in sending pictures of the wedding returned, with the bride’s head cut out of them. The attitude that Okeke conveys is that family and social pressure, what he would call expectations, must be accepted and be the guiding forces in one’s behavior. The anger he feels towards his son is that they were not accepted.
Such demands are not as present in the love marriage that Nene and Nnaemeka share. Their marriage is one in which social pressure is not as evident. The couple live in an urban setting, Lagos, and are able to blend in with others, without the looming social pressure and family expectations present. They live their lives for one another, devoid of the need to adhere to any other expectation. The story shows this as one distinct aspect of a love marriage that is different from a traditionally sanctioned relationship through the adherence to social expectations. The role of family expectations and social pressure in a love marriage is not as dominating as it would be in a traditional marriage.

3.How has living in the city changed Nnaemeka’s attitudes towards the old tribal ways?


Ans:It becomes clear that living in the city has helped to change Nnaemeka’s attitudes from the tribal ways of his father. He is surrounded by more education in Lagos than in the tribal setting. This has enabled him to embrace a cosmopolitan approach to being in the world. The discrimination and prejudices that Okeke and the triabl ways offers towards someone like Nene have been put aside. Nnaemeka’s living in the city has helped to foster this level of change. 
At the same time, it becomes clear that life in Lagos is not as culturally bound by tradition as what Okeke experiences. Life in Lagos is more heterogeneous. The friends that Nene and Nnaemeka have come from varied backgrounds. While they might display initial reticence towards Nene, they are flexible and Achebe makes it a point that she “wins them over.” It is for this reason that Nnaemeka does not really “get” his father’s objections to Nene. When Nnaemeka argues that he wishes to marry for love, it becomes a statement of what living in the city has brought about in his consciousness. Nnaemeka understands marriage to be for love and this is a modern reflection, something that the environment of the city has helped to bring about within him. It is for this reason that one can see how living in the city has helped to establish a fundamental change within him and that accentuated when he sees his father and hears his objections being offered on such narrow and pedantic grounds.

4.Assess the cultural relavance of “Marriage is a Private Affair.” 

Ans:The original question had to be edited. I would suggest that the cultural relevance of Achebe’s story lies in how there is a fundamental changing of social perception regarding institutions such as marriage. The fact that Okeke is resistant to change and does whatever he can to ensure that his son and his daughter in law are not happy is almost secondary to how they pursue happiness. Nnaemeka is not elated at how he is disappointing his father. However, “marriage is a private affair” and is something that he pursues any way. The cultural boundaries are changing in how the young do believe in marriage for love and not out of duty or misplaced responsibility. It is in this where there is a definite cultural relevance to the story. Should the older generation wish to remain steadfast in their ways and refuse to adopt the elements of social change, the result will be alienation and isolation. Okeke is hit with immediate grief and regret that he has lost time with his son and grandsons. 
For her part, Nene shows that she is not impacted with Okeke’s coarse and cruel rejection. She is steadfast in her own sense of being as a modern woman who wishes to make a life for her family. In her resilience and in Okeke’s regret, one sees how the story is culturally relevant for a changing world where young people are able to envision what can and should be as opposed to merely conforming to what is.


5.Identify where there is hope in Nene’s letter to Okeke at the end of “Marriage is a Private Affair.”

Ans :Nene’s emotional frame of reference is complex in her letter to Okeke. There is a sense of sadness to it in that she readily acknowledges that the relationship between she and her father in law will, to a great extent, be ruptured. Yet, I think that Nene’s hope at the end of her letter to Okeke is fairly powerful in that it is a desire to seek resolution without sacrifice to her own sense of dignity. The letter speaks to the idea that she is a mother who wishes the best for her children, boys who wish to know their grandfather. She does not let her own sense of dignity and pride impact their own connection. In her statement about how she “will remain in Lagos,” there is a sadness, but a sense of the resolute present. She had been shown in the story as one who will not be defined by setback and adversity, but actually rise above it. She also does not show herself to be a woman that wishes to break the bond between her husband and his father. She clearly states that the three of them in terms of the father and the two sons wish to visit Okeke. The hope present is that she will not deny or repudiate this in the same way that Okeke’s demeanor has done in terms of his son’s and Nene’s marriage. It is in this where hope is evident, that moral ascendancy and transcendency is evident in her actions, the actions of a young person. It is in this that we see Okeke’s “resolution he had built up over so many years falling in.” It is here where there is hope and where there is redemption at the end of her letter.
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